|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Clegg: I should also like to join in this festival of cross-party consensus, which I trust will be a rare, if valuable occasion. It underlines the importance of this positive step not only for Romania and Bulgaria but for the European Union as a whole. I join others in reminding the House that the vision of an ever-wider and more diverse EU has for a long time been a particularly British vision of the European Union and before it the European Community, which has united political opinion across parties for a long time. It is good to see that that fundamental view has held true here today. It is not a view that is shared in other parts of the EU. I doubt that in Paris one would find quite the same amount of cross-party consensus on this latest step in the journey of EU enlargement. It remains an expression of great strategic vision on the part of Britain as a whole that we have prosecuted this process as successfully as we have.
Some important points have been made during the consideration of the Bill about the final steps of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU and the absolute need for real rigour in ensuring that the outstanding measures that need to be taken in those two countries are taken and that the safeguard measures are used in all seriousness and not merely as a fig leaf for enlargement and accession at all costs. That concern about the final stages of accession should not be viewed as some last-minute series of obstacles to their rightful claim to join the EU. It is born of a serious belief that if further enlargements are to occur in a politically, economically and socially sustainable way in the decades ahead, we must set the right precedent today.
I was disappointed that the Bill was not amended in Committee, but I was grateful for the comments made by both Ministers. I broadly welcome the Bill. Enlargement of the European Union is good for everyone. The larger the single market, the more prosperous its peoples become. Clearly, the addition of 30 million consumers from Bulgaria and Romania is to be welcomed. It is an added bonus that we are bringing in people who have been freed from the tyranny of communism. I would go on to argue for the enlargement
24 Nov 2005 : Column 1719
of the EU to such an extent that it joins with the North American Free Trade Agreement to create a transatlantic free trade area, which would create a huge market and be of enormous benefit to its peoples. In this regard, we should welcome and encourage Romania and Bulgaria into the EU.
I have concerns on two fronts. One is the process of Bulgaria and Romania's accession. The other is the effects on the UK of these countries joining the European Union. Bulgaria and Romania are two countries that are only now emerging from the throes of Soviet domination. The defeat of communism in those countries and the creation of freedom and democracy were of course championed by Baroness Thatcher and her Conservative Governments. The two countries are now entering into the most fundamental change since the fall of communism. However, one of the great freedoms that the people of Bulgaria and Romania have gained from the fall of communism is the right to determine their own affairs and to vote on issues that affect their lives. Yet the Bulgarian and Romanian people have not been given the chance to vote on this fundamental change. That shows the ultimate failing of the system and highlights how undemocratic the process of EU accession is.
The EU can demand all sorts of regulations and laws and practices, but the one thing that it does not demand is that the people of the countries acceding to it have a choice in whether they want to be part of the EU. Is that because the EU fears the verdict of the people? Has it not learned from the fiasco of the European constitution? Should it not be a condition that every country that wants to join the EU should hold a referendum?
As the citizens of those two countries have not been given the chance to vote on whether they want to be part of the EU we have only the views expressed in opinion polls to show the strength of opposition to accession. Every second person surveyed in Bulgaria was concerned that their country would have to contribute more than it would receive from the EU budget. More than half of those surveyed in Bulgaria feared that accession would create difficulties for the country's farmers. In a survey commissioned by the delegation of the European Commission in Romania, 56 per cent. of Romanians believed that accession would bring more drawbacks than advantages in the short term.
The Minister may rightly point out that no such referendum was held in the United Kingdom. One sunny morning, I woke up and the people of the United Kingdom found that they were no longer in the European Community but in the European Union. The people of Britain were never given the chance to say whether they wanted to be in the EU. They were never asked whether they wanted to be in a European superstate, with its own Parliament, its own President, its own flag and its own Court, all of which is costing billions of pounds a year and represents a significant loss of British sovereignty. However, that strengthens the argument that Bulgarians and Romanians should have the right to a referendum. The citizens of those accession countries are denied a fundamental democratic choice.
24 Nov 2005 : Column 1720
My second concern is that the Government have not made clear what restrictions, if any, will be imposed on the accession countries with regard to free movement to the UK, notwithstanding the Minister's earlier comments. The Government's prediction of immigration from the 10 accession countries fell severely short of the actual figure. Surely, they need to outline the restrictions they will impose on the two accession countries before it is too late, because it could be little more than a year before Romania and Bulgaria are admitted to the EU and I do not see why we should have to wait to hear what our partners say about the issue before we make our decision.
It is not unreasonable to ask for details about the restrictions that will be imposed on the free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania. There are no details in the Bill about whether people coming to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania will automatically be entitled to benefit. Will they be entitled to housing benefit, jobseeker's allowance or incapacity benefit and if so, when? The Bill does not answer those questions.
Many of my constituents are concerned that migrants from eastern Europe are automatically entitled to benefits. I am not making that point to produce headlines; in fact, it is the reverse. It can be argued that migration has not significantly increased the number of people on benefit, but because it is not clear in the Bill what the restrictions might be, we may attract headlines when Bulgaria and Romania accede.
My greatest concern about free movement, which is shared by all Members, is that human trafficking will be made easier under the Bill. I am particularly concerned about the hideous trafficking of young women in the sex trade. Young women from eastern Europe are promised a new life with legitimate employment and opportunities in the UK, but they finish up as sex slaves sold from one degenerate to another. They are subject to the most appalling violence and intimidation, which goes as far as telling them that back home, perhaps in Bulgaria or Romania, their child will be killed if they do not continue to serve as sex slaves. That is worse than the intimidation and violence suffered by slaves in the 19th century. Will the Government bear that outrageous and disgraceful trafficking in mind when drawing up regulations for work permits?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|